Fight Rages in Norway over Sale of Barbara Hepworth Sculpture

By Alexander Forbes via ArtNet.com

kunsthall-stavanger

A battle has broken out over the sale of Barbara Hepworth’s Figure for Landscape (1960) by Norway’s much-loved Kunsthall Stavanger, in the country’s third largest city. The 2.6-meter-tall (8.5 feet) sculpture holds a £1-2 million ($1.70-3.41 million) estimate in Christie’s London’s Modern British and Irish Art Evening Sale this Wednesday evening. Proceeds from the sale are to be used for the Kunsthall’s operating and exhibition budget. Without those funds, supporters argue, the Kunsthall will likely be forced to close its doors.

The local organization Stavanger Byselskap, which helped fund the initial purchase of the sculpture, was first to file legal action against the Kunsthall, hoping to bar the sculpture’s sale, according to The Foreigner. And, while that suit was settled in favor of the Kunsthalle, over 260 members of the community have signed a petition protesting against the work’s deaccession. Members of the Norwegian art world have condemned the sale as “a theft,” while Stavanger Art Museum acting director Vibece Salthe explained, “There aren’t many of Barbara Hepworth’s works in Norway either. I think it’s a shame.”

Kunsthall Stavanger supporters were quick to respond, creating a social media campaign to argue that the benefits generated by the sale of Hepworth’s sculpture far outweigh the cost. In crafting their petition to let the sale go through, supporters of the Kunsthall don’t mince words about what’s at stake for the city’s art scene:

“Does one want institutions that are ambitious, and strive towards taking part in a large national and international artistic discourse? Does one want institutions that produce critically engaging exhibitions and display some of the best of what the contemporary art world has to offer? Does one want an exhibition space that actively and innovatively disseminates art to a growing audience? Or does one want a sculpture in front of an empty building? The choice should be obvious.”

The group admits that it will be “painful” to lose Hepworth’s Figure for Landscape. However, where others have placed blame for the current lack of funding for the institution with its own management, the Kunsthall Stavanger’s supporters claim the situation is the result of, “longstanding lack of political will…to pay the price to maintain important art institutions.” They also cite the basic conceit of kunsthalle worldwide, which rather than building collections—something for which museums are typically responsible—is to foster and display new production. Numerous international artists and curators such as Lauren Cornell, Jayson Musson, Lorna Simpson, and Cecile B. Evans, have joined in calls of support for the sale.

Norwegians haven’t been alone in condemning the sale—the Hepworth estate isn’t happy about it either. “We feel it’s unethical for the work to be resold by Stavanger for short-term financial benefit. As this is the only Hepworth in a Norwegian public collection, it would be additionally regrettable to see it sold,” Hepworth’s granddaughter told Norway’s public broadcasting service, NRK via Professor of Architecture Harald N. Røstvik. They claim that Figure for Landscape was sold to the institution for about half its value at the time, due to Hepworth’s desire to have one of her works in a Norwegian public collection.

Figure for Landscape first went on view at the Kunsthall Stavanger in 1968. It is the sixth of seven casts of the work, which Christie’s says, “is the first example of Hepworth attempting the wrapping process in plaster for bronze.” It was created during one of her most prolific periods. Other casts of the sculpture have been exhibited at the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington DC, Tate Modern, and London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, among others.

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5 thoughts on “Fight Rages in Norway over Sale of Barbara Hepworth Sculpture

  • April 14, 2015 at 12:21 pm
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    Although I see how the museum needs to find ways to make money to be able to stay open I think it’s unethical of them to sell the sculpture. As Megan states this is a short term plan. What happens after this money runs out? I think they need to come up with a better plan as to how they can make money and continue to make it in order to keep the museum open long term.

  • April 14, 2015 at 12:35 am
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    I completely agree with Megan and Kendall. The museum needs a long term plan as to what the money will be used for going forward and an agreement to keep the museum open. As stated, the amount of money from the sale will generously outweigh the financial state at the moment, so a clear lining of where the rest of the money is going will be needed. I do not see a point of having the piece there if the museum closes, but on the other hand if it stays open, the piece will remain important. I think they should look at other options before committing to the selling of this piece. There’s got to be an alternate solution.

  • April 12, 2015 at 4:56 pm
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    I completely agree that the museum, like any other successful business, should come up with a long term plan to save the museum. It would be sad for the community to see the doors of the museum close but they need to think smart financially long term.

  • April 12, 2015 at 4:54 pm
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    Keeping the artwork will only help the museum short-term, like Megan already said. I

  • April 7, 2015 at 4:41 pm
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    I can definitely understand both sides to this argument. On the one hand, The museum needs to stay open in order to display the sculpture; however, on the other hand, how long will this financial help keep the museum open. I think that in order to save the museum, they need to show how they will keep the museum open in the future. It needs to be beneficial to the community to sell the artwork. I don’t think that keeping the artwork will be all that beneficial, especially if the museum closes. In order to appease those in the community, I think the museum needs to come forward with a long term plan to save the museum.

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